Health Minister To Attend Asean SARS Forum

The Minister of Health will travel to Malaysia Friday to join an Asean ministers’ meeting aimed at strengthening cooperation to combat and prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, health officials said Tuesday.

Health Minister Hong Son Huot on Monday received an invitation from the Malaysian health minister, Jatodat’chua Guiment, asking him to attend the meeting, which will include all ten Asean countries and South Korea, China, Japan and Hong Kong, said Communicable Di­sease Department Director Dr Sok Touch.

No SARS cases have been detected in Cambodia, and government officials are working to keep it that way. Hong Son Huot’s presence at the Malaysian meeting will precede an appearance he will make with Prime Minister Hun Sen at an Asean meeting on SARS on April 29 in Bangkok.

Asean leaders will work to impose uniform standards of control at all immigration checkpoints, Thailand’s Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan told the Bangkok Post newspaper Monday.

Siem Reap province’s SARS consultant, Dr Rob Overtoom of Unicef, said regional cooperation is crucial to establishing an efficient health surveillance system.

“Health forms should be given at the departure airports,” he said Monday, noting that health questionnaires should be filled out in flight to reduce the amount of time travelers spend in airports upon arrival.

Overtoom said travelers to Siem Reap’s airport have grown irritable because they are de­tained to answer health questions outside the airport terminal.

An external health examination area has been established at the Siem Reap airport where suspected SARS patients will be given a protective mask and placed in front of a fan to reduce the chances of spreading the disease, Overtoom said.

Although no Cambodians have suffered from SARS, the country’s tourism industry has suffered.

SilkAir issued a statement Monday announcing that flights from Singapore to Phnom Penh would be reduced from 11 to 7 per week during the month of May due to the spread of SARS. An official at Mekong Airways said Tuesday that its April 28 flight between Phnom Penh and Hong Kong had also been canceled.

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